Walking down Unter den Linden in Berlin one afternoon, I spotted an ugly old modern East German building across from the Dom that I had never seen before, a huge spaceship-like thing with blue and white panels. Except that it wasn’t an ugly old modern East German building. It was the Humboldt Box, a new temporary structure that offers special exhibits and a view over the city. The Box is located on one of the most visible and symbolically charged parcels of land in the city, right at the heart of the tourist district, on the site of the former Palast der Republik. After the Palast (a truly great ugly old modern East German building) was demolished in 2009 preparations began for the reconstruction of the old castle that stood there before WWII. Then, when that project was suspended for financial reasons, the city held a design competition and gave the media company Megaposter the chance to put up this six-million-Euro folly.
Berliners were upset by the cost of the structure, and also the manner in which the project slipped so easily through the public approvals process. But the best reason to be upset is by the atrocious design by KSV, an architecture office whose principals were, amazingly, trained at the Bauhaus. They haven’t built much yet and seem to specialize in winning competitions. Berlin is a city rich in architecture and rich in architects, the kind that specialize in buildings. A wave of young architects from around the world flocked to Berlin after the wall fell, forging a strong local design culture. Why didn’t the city select a superior design for this structure? And why aren’t Berliners rioting?